If you're thinking of buying something expensive and used, a BMW 7-Series could be your E-ticket to class.
Specifically, we mean the 1995-2001 BMW 7-Series, known in the BMW community as the E38 generation. Many automotive enthusiasts, myself included, find this to be the most attractive 7-Series produced by BMW, ever. This luxo-barge was once reserved for the wealthy but used prices have dropped enough to make any common peasant a potential owner.
According to Edmunds, dealer prices range from around $4,000 for a ‘95 in good condition to around $12,000 for an ‘01 in good condition.
In 1995, the 7-Series came standard with a 4.0-liter V-8 engine, but in 1996 BMW switched to the more modern 4.4-liter V-8 which would become the standard engine straight through 2001. This engine produced a healthy 280 horsepower, and saw torque grow from 295 pound-feet in ’95 to 325 lb-ft by ’01. For a beefy V-8, this unit achieved commendable gas mileage, with an EPA estimated 17 mpg city and 23 mpg highway. Many real-world reports on various automotive forums indicate that actual highway mileage is likely in the upper 20s, thanks in large part to the BMW’s tall final drive in the automatic transmission.
The 7-Series was also available with a 12-cylinder during this time, but between poor gas mileage, expensive routine maintence, and not much performance benefit (actually performs worse in the handling department due to increased weight and a worsened weight distribution), I would steer clear of these.
Perhaps one of the most surprising elements of this vehicle is its handling ability. Despite weighing in at a hefty 4300 pounds, this BMW feels light on its feet. Around town, this sedan soaks up large bumps and road imperfections with aplomb, while remaining tight around curves with just the right amount of understeer to make the driver feel confident.
One of the more incredible aspects of this car is how well they age. This body style is now 16 years old, yet remains fresh and classy. If you have the privilege of getting behind the wheel of a well-maintained 7-Series, you would be hard-pressed to find evidence that this car is at least a decade old. The steering remains firm and precise, rattles tend to be non-existent, and interior materials still retain a high quality feel.
The best years to look for are 1999-2001. By this time, any bugs in the platform had been worked out. In addition, some of these cars came equipped with an early navigation system. The system can’t match today’s units in terms of technology, but will impress those nerds (like myself) who appreciate early entries of modern technology. And if you are picky like me, you will also notice that these years included a subtle change to the tail lights; what used to be an amber portion of the lens was changed to a clear/white style, and it looks far better. If you are really lucky, you can find one with the sport package, which included a slightly stiffer suspension with higher spring rates front and rear, along with some beautiful 18-inch wheels.
The only caveat with purchasing a car like this is the cost of ownership. This isn’t a Toyota Camry, and all potential buyers must remind themselves of this before taking the plunge. If you are a capable DIYer, you can save a fortune by doing routine maintenance yourself. Despite common misconceptions, this car is not much more difficult to work on than other European vehicles. With the vast resources available on the Internet, any shade tree mechanic can become a European automotive specialist. And with the existence of eBay, Craigslist, and the for sale sections of automotive forums, most parts can be found without breaking your back or your bank.
This is a great car for those appreciate German engineering and styling at its finest. I plan on owning one myself someday.